Interview with Vicki O’Callaghan, co-founder of BabyBoo

Find out how Vicki O’Callaghan and Michelle O’Riordan, two mums and businesswomen from Cork, founded childrenswear brand BabyBoo – which today sells over 100,000 bandana bibs a year.

What’s your career background?

We met in college studying business about 20 years ago now and then our careers went in different directions.

Michelle branched off into HR and specialised in pensions and redundancies and I worked for 18 years for a publishing company across it’s digital brands in sales and marketing.

How did your career change after having children?

Michelle had her first child 15 years ago, she now has four children ranging from 15 down to seven.

She made the decision to stop working outside the home after she had her second child Clodagh, a big decision but a necessary one for her family and then when BabyBoo came along it was ideal timing, we’re five years in business this September. She was more than ready to get stuck into a new challenge. 

BabyBoo works for both of us because we can work it around our families, I have one child Ruby who is nearly six, I’m a solo mum so I wanted to have more flexibility in my working life by the time she started school.

I gave up my full time job two years ago and now I get to drop her to school every day and collect her a few days a week. Career wise I think your priorities change when you have children, I found I was more driven to achieve and challenge myself because I want to be a role model for her.

Where did the idea for BabyBoo come from?

The idea for BabyBoo started with the bandana bibs, I heard someone call them a cult classic recently, not sure if they can reach cult status in less than five years but we think they’re pretty good.

Our kids all have sensitive skin and we couldn’t find a bib that would tackle the drool but look nice and not aggravate skin so the idea for the DribbleBoo came about. It’s now made with organic cotton and has three layers, the middle layer is fleece so nothing soaks through to clothing and it really does kill that teething rash lots of kids with eczema etc battle.

We now do sleeping bags, sleepsuits, blankets, feeding bibs and lots more.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

We did a lot of market research and product research. We worked on the designs with a textile designer and we tested various manufacturers before we found one we were happy with.

I guess we were lucky my background is digital marketing because social media has played a huge part in our success to date.

What’s your USP?

Across all our products we aim to solve problems for parents, we always have sensitive skin at the forefront of our designs but they’re also extremely functional products.

Our sleepsuits for example are made using organic cotton, have detachable sleeves, open across the bum for easy nightime nappy changes and have poppers in the body to make them narrower if necessary.

Who’s your target audience?

Parents of children from newborn to age 8 at the moment but we’re aiming to extend this age range all the time.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Social media is a key element in our marketing – both Instagram and Facebook are a huge part of how we have built a community around our brand. We regularly involve our customers in designs and in testing new products and these communication channels are vital for us.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

I think to date Instagram has been a real eye opener for us, how stories have impacted on our reach and our engagement with new customers is a huge part of our growth in the last 6-12 months.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

It’s the boring behind the scenes stuff that no-one sees, customs clearance, VAT, the financial side of the business have all been very steep learning curves for us.

And your proudest moment so far?

Kildare Village which is a sister to Bicester village in London have invited us to open a pop up shop there next week which is a massive achievement for us.

To find ourselves in the same environment as brands we admire so much like Joules, The White company, Mulberry, Cath Kidston – a dream come true.

Why is work so important to you?

We both thrive on working, it’s like having another baby and you don’t really ever get to switch off but we wouldn’t change it. We both count ourselves very lucky to have a business partner and we have different strengths so this works  really well.

Who inspires you?

Lots of people, wow hard to pick just one but I’m a big Michelle Mone fan, love Jo Malone, Marissa Carter – I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book at the moment and it’s fantastic.

How do you balance your work with your family?

What’s this balance word you speak of? We try our best but it can be a huge challenge at times to achieve any balance. We both aim to switch off on a Sunday and spend that day with the children, ideally we don’t work any time when we’re with them but that’s not always possible.

Holidays and time off are vital though so again we’re lucky we have the other one to step in and take the reins when necessary.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1) Do your research

Make sure your idea/product is one that people will want to buy and isn’t an already flooded market, is there something different about it?

2) Understand your finances

Do a course or read or book or engage a good accountant but don’t let this part slide.

3) Surround yourself with the right people

Be positive about your brand, invite feedback, seek out the right support for the areas you don’t excel at so if you don’t have a clue about social media find someone who does and contract them or get some good training to learn about it.

You can find out more about BabyBoo here.